Pericardial mesothelioma is a rare form of mesothelioma, accounting for merely 1-6 percent of all diagnosed mesothelioma cases. According to research statistics, there have been about 200 worldwide reported cases of pericardial mesothelioma. The cancer develops in the pericardium membrane that surrounds and protects the heart. This membrane has two layers: an outer layer known as the parietal layer or the heart sac, and an inner layer termed as the visceral layer. The parietal layer forms part of the bigger membrane that outlines the chest cavity and the viscera layer acts as the pericardial membrane that surrounds the heart. Pericardial mesothelioma tumors are mostly diffused and envelope a majority of the heart region, thus making it an aggressive and difficult to treat mesothelioma type. On an average, pericardial mesothelioma has the lowest survival rate among all mesothelioma forms. Statistics reveal that 50 to 60 percent of all pericardial mesothelioma patients succumb to the disease within six months of the diagnosis.
The symptoms of pericardial mesothelioma can often be confused for other heart ailments, making it a difficult to diagnose cancer. Non-specific symptoms and the extended latency period of mesothelioma require doctors to conduct multiple tests to establish the presence of the cancer. Asbestos fibers exhibit a dangerous tendency to slowly accumulate in the body and cause cellular destruction, resulting in reproduction of cells and formation of tumors, which eventually trigger a set of uncomfortable symptoms. Most pericardial symptoms are associated with the build-up of fluid and coagulation of the pericardial layer. The most common symptoms of pericardial mesothelioma are heart palpitations, acute chest pain, difficulty in breathing, constant fatigue and fever accompanied by night sweats.
Due to the non-specific nature of the symptoms, it is crucial for the doctor to gauge the patient's medical history and perform a thorough physical examination. Following the results of the preliminary tests, doctors may order a range of imaging tests such as MRI, PET and CAT scans to assess the extent of the cancer's development. The last stage of the diagnosis involves a biopsy to establish the point of origin of the cancer. It is performed by extracting tissue/fluid from the pericardium and subjecting it to laboratory tests to determine the definitive presence of mesothelioma.
Since pericardial mesothelioma is generally discovered in the advanced stages and is more diffused by nature, surgery is often not an option for treating it. Also due to the proximity of the pericardial membrane to the heart, surgery is discouraged by most doctors. Though attached with a grave risk, surgery can be used to extract tiny, localized tumors in rare cases. Palliative treatments (treatments aimed at suppressing painful symptoms and improving the quality of the patient's life) is usually the only option for patients with pericardial mesothelioma. Needle aspiration may be performed on the patient to get rid of the excess fluid built-up inside the pericardium. Radiation can also be another palliative treatment option, though again the proximity of the region to the heart and lungs makes it a risky prospect. A pericardial mesothelioma patient could survive five years following the administration of partial surgical resection and radiation.
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